Supporters of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan clashed with police seeking to arrest him outside his home on Tuesday, even as the longtime politician told CNN that he was “mentally prepared to spend the night in a cell.”
“I want a proper warrant of arrest and I want to see that, my lawyers want to see the warrant,” he told CNN. He also said that he believed his arrest was both inevitable and politically motivated, referencing upcoming by-elections in April and the general election in October.
“It’s a matter of time. I’m convinced they will come in and arrest me, I’m prepared for it,” he said, adding: “I know what the intention is. They want to get me out of the race. They want to get me out of the match so that they can win the elections.”
Khan faces allegations of illegally purchasing and selling gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries while he was in office, which he has rejected as “biased.”
On Monday, the Islamabad High Court issued an arrest warrant against Khan over the case to have him presented before the court on March 18.
“On the order of the court, the person who ran away from the court will be arrested and arrested and produced there,” tweeted Pakistani Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah on Tuesday.
But Khan’s lawyers have argued he has previously failed to appear in court because he cannot leave his residence in Lahore due to security concerns. He can only make appearances via video link, according to his legal team.
In his interview with CNN, the former leader warned that attempts to arrest him could lead to a dangerous escalation in political violence in the country, and that he believed Pakistan’s ruling coalition might eventually use “that pretext of violence” to delay the upcoming votes.
In a statement to CNN, the country’s Information Minister denied any political involvement in the case. “The government has nothing to do with the arrest (of Khan), and the arrest has nothing to do with elections. The police is only complying with the orders of the court,” Marriyum Aurangzeb said.
“Instead of cooperating with law enforcement officials, Imran Khan is breaking the law, defying court orders and using his party workers as human shields to evade arrest and stoke unrest,” she added.
Protests have broken out in major cities across Pakistan in support of Khan, who released a video on social media asking his followers to “come out” in support of his movement if he is detained.
Local media and footage shared by officials from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party showed water cannons and tear gas being used by police against Khan’s supporters.
Islamabad police tweeted that four police officials have been injured after being hit by stones by supporters of Khan.
Khan was ousted as Prime Minister in a vote of no confidence in April. He has since led a popular campaign against the current government, accusing it of colluding with the military to remove him from office.
“[The government], they’re petrified that if I come into power, I will hold them accountable,” he told CNN on Tuesday.
“They also know that even if I go to jail, we will swing the elections no matter what they do,” he added.
Khan has only been arrested once in 2007 by then President and military ruler Pervez Musharraf who died earlier this year.
The current political upheaval comes at a time when Pakistan’s government waits for a delayed bailout from the International Monetary Fund, which will help with the country’s cost of living crisis and ailing economy.